Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Additives and Supplements
Tammy Kliethermes, Dietetic Intern, Missouri Department of Health
Here's everything you wanted to know about monosodium
glutamate, commonly known as MSG.
MSG is the sodium salt of glutamate. Glutamate is an
amino acid essential for metabolism and brain function and
is manufactured by the body. It is found in almost every
protein food we eat. Glutamate occurs naturally in
protein-containing foods such as cheese, milk, mushrooms,
meat, fish, and many vegetables like tomatoes. When MSG is
added to foods, it provides a similar flavoring function as
the glutamate that occurs naturally in food.
MSG is used as a flavor enhancer to many foods. It is
made from starch, corn sugar or molasses from sugar cane or
sugar beets. A natural fermentation process, much like that
used to make beer, vinegar, or yogurt, produces MSG.
The MSG added to food is handled in the body the same way
as natural glutamate found in foods. But, isn't it high in
sodium? MSG contains only one-third of the sodium as table
salt, and is used in much smaller amounts. When MSG is used
with table salt, it can actually help reduce the total
amount of sodium by 20 to 40 percent. In addition, MSG may
be helpful to the elderly who may experience a decline in
smell and taste. Adding MSG to soups and stews may make
eating for older adults more enjoyable.
Some people feel they are sensitive to MSG, developing
headaches and other symptoms. However, current research has
not found a link between MSG and these reactions. MSG is
safe for consumption as stated by the US Food and Drug
Administration. It is even safe for infants as human breast
milk contains glutamate.
When purchasing foods, check the nutrition label
ingredient list for MSG. Also, flavoring your household
foods with MSG can invite a savory taste into your home. As
a general guideline, about half a teaspoon of MSG per pound
of meat or per four to six servings of vegetables should be
Overall, MSG helps make good food taste even better.
Everything You Need To Know About Glutamate and Monosodium Glutamate: International Food and Information Council Foundation, January 1997.
Sensitive to MSG? American Dietetic Association
Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009